Alam & Andrabi The Quiet Hawks Behind The Valley’s Angry Mobs31 July 2010
The Indian Express
Srinagar: There is no evidence yet of a central command controlling the motley stone-pelting mobs across the Valley. But as curfew entered its 36th day today and two more protesters were killed in firing - taking the death toll of civilians to 24 since the protests began last month - there are the first signs of the emergence of a new and younger hardline leadership. The buzz is around three individuals - one is in prison - and although none of them can claim control across the Valley, their active support to the protesters is clear, say police. Filling the void in the absence of Hurriyat hawk Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was only released today, are Masarat Alam and Dukhtaran-e-Millat’s Aasiya Andrabi. Both have gone underground and police have raided a dozen locations to track them. * From his hideout, Alam, 38, issues “protest calendars” and recently sent a videoclip to the media in which he asks security forces to leave the Valley. Sources said to avoid detection, Alam doesn’t use a cellphone. Ironically, police also blame Andrabi’s husband Ashiq Hussain Faktoo for instigating the protests from behind bars where he is serving a life term. Alam, an “event manager” for the hardline faction led by Geelani, is a militant-turned-political leader. In the early days of militancy in the ’90s, he was a top commander of a pro-Pakistan militant outfit Hezbollah, a group that later faded away. A college graduate who went to Biscoe, the Valley’s leading missionary school, Alam was arrested in October 1990 but released after 13 months. He was arrested again in 1993 and was in jail for four years. From 1997 to 2007, Alam was arrested and released several times. In 2003, when the Hurriyat split, Alam joined the hawks led by Geelani. He rose to prominence in 2008 during the Amarnath land agitation. A resident of downtown Srinagar, Alam is said to have made inroads into Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s stronghold in the city. He was arrested in September 2008 and booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) but released in June this year. * Ashiq Hussain Faktoo, 43, or Dr Mohammad Qasim, as he is popularly known, is serving a life-term for the killing of human rights activist H N Wanchoo. After his Bachelor’s in Commerce in 1987, Qasim was introduced to militancy by Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo, one of the top commanders of the Hizbul Mujahideen. In 1990, he was appointed Hizbul spokesman. This association didn’t last long. A few months later, he, with two others, broke away to launch the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen and Qasim was made its first spokesman. In October 1990, Qasim married Syeda Aasiya Andrabi, chairperson of women’s separatist organization Dukhtran-i-Millat. In 1993, Qasim was arrested with his wife and their child. While Aasiya Andrabi and the child were released after 13 months, Qasim was booked under PSA and for the killing of activist H N Wanchoo. In March 1999, he was released on bail and became the first militant leader to float the idea of an indigenous separatist movement independent of Pakistan. In July 2001, the TADA court in Jammu acquitted Qasim in the Wanchoo case but in 2003, the Supreme Court sentenced him to life imprisonment. He has served his term, police said, and the J-K High Court has asked the state government to consider his release. * Aasiya Andrabi, 47, founder and chairperson of Dukhtaran-e-Millat, isn’t new to hardline politics but has acquired an active profile during the current protests, actively issuing statements endorsing the protesters. In 1985, she broke away from the Jamat-e-Islami and formed the Dukhtaran-e-Millat and in 1991 hit the headlines when she launched a campaign to enforce the veil in the Valley. She has been arrested several times under the PSA but is now underground.